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One of the two people accused in a gruesome double homicide in Missoula in 2017 will stand trial for his charges next month. 

Defense attorneys for Augustus Standingrock, charged with two counts of deliberate homicide in the deaths of Jackson Wiles and Marilyn Picket, sought to delay that trial date at a Monday hearing in Missoula County District Court.

Still to be done, they said, was deciphering a jail letter Standingrock had recently attempted to eat but that was reconstructed by the FBI; interviews with elusive witnesses in the case; and polling to determine if extensive media coverage of the case since it was filed in August 2017 would preclude an impartial jury from Missoula County.

Attorneys said at the Monday hearing it's possible Tiffanie Pierce, Standingrock's co-defendant, sent Standingrock the letter from within the county jail. Despite the FBI's efforts to make the chewed-up correspondence legible under different lighting conditions, the letter remains largely unreadable.

Deputy County Attorney Jennifer Clark told Judge James Wheelis on Monday that prosecutors may submit the letter at trial to establish instances of Pierce and Standingrock contacting one another ahead of trial, but would not pursue uncovering the contents of the letter any further. 

In regards to the polling, Wheelis determined any challenges to the impartiality of the jury could be done with additional questions in a jury questionnaire sent out before jurors are called for the selection process.

Similarly, additional questions were provided to potential jurors ahead of the trial of Markus Kaarma, who was tried for fatally shooting a German exchange student in 2014. Kaarma's attorneys sought a different venue for the trial, alleging the media had portrayed him as a cold-blooded killer in "inflammatory" news reports. Kaarma's attempts to move the trial, including an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, were denied and he was subsequently convicted in Missoula County, where the offense occurred.

Clark on Monday said she had concerns with the polling techniques conducted by Standingrock's defense attorneys, which she suspected may be a "delay tactic." She also said the county attorney's office had received information from a person who had been contacted by the polling firm and had concerns that the related questions may be misleading to potential jurors.

Also unknown to both prosecutors and the defense is the source of fingerprints from the basement where the bodies of Wiles and Pickett were recovered. Clark said the state is working to "overturn every stone possible" regarding the fingerprints, and would turn the results over to the defense as quickly as possible.

Additionally, Brooke said an interview was finally conducted Monday morning with Dylan Mace, who had eluded depositions three times previously, and was only secured after Wheelis issued a $20,000 arrest warrant for Mace last week. Standingrock's defense team has long sought an interview with Mace because of his reported statements to law enforcement suggesting Standingrock was motivated to kill Wiles because of Wiles' alleged sexual abuse of a girl close to Standingrock, which prosecutors have previously revealed as the driving force in the killings. 

After the hearing, Brooke told the Missoulian he will file a change of venue motion next week.

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Criminal justice